Sills’ Employment and Labor chair, Prezioso, talks post-COVID concerns, cases

Employers must be concerned for safety of their employees and safety of their data and trade secrets, among other issues

Patti Prezioso. (Sills Cummis & Gross)

Like everyone else, Patti Prezioso hopes the pandemic is slowly getting behind us.

As the chair of the Employment and Labor practice at Sills Cummis & Gross in Newark, Prezioso knows its impact will be forever felt in the future as employment law adjusts to the new normal.

“Along with the many tragedies and changes that came with the pandemic, employers have had to pivot and adjust tremendously,” she said. “While we hope that the worst is over, the changes due to the pandemic continue to present challenges in the workplace.

“Employers must be concerned for the safety of their employees, the safety of their data and trade secrets, and about contingency plans, government guidance and so much more.”

The change in how we work — and where we work — has had great impact, Prezioso said.

“I believe the hybrid work model is here to stay, giving rise to mentoring and training challenges, the need for planned collaboration and a host of data security concerns,” she said.

“Prior to the pandemic, business for most companies was conducted on business devices. However, now we are conducting business in our homes and many using personal devices. This gives rise to data security concerns, and we are seeing a big uptick in related claims, as well as the need to implement workplace policy changes to address those concerns.

“Additionally, just prior to the pandemic, we had several new employment laws passed, ranging from worker classification to enhanced WARN requirements.”

Then there’s this: Workers are changing jobs at a much-higher rate than before. This has led to other disputes, Prezioso said.

“We are seeing a rise in claims relating to employees violating post-separation obligations,” she said. “So many people have changed jobs during the pandemic or exited from the job market entirely. In many industry spaces, the competition for customers, growth and employees has been fierce.”

Sills has been deeply involved in all such cases.

Prezioso, a former prosecutor who joined the firm as chair of the Employment and Labor practice group in the middle of the pandemic (February 2021), said business is booming.

“We treat our clients as our partners in reducing their employee-related risk so they can focus on their business growth,” she said. “And, when we need to fight, we fight hard. We know how to investigate and find the evidence, and how to examine the witnesses in depositions, and know our way around a courtroom.

“Our recipe is working. The E&L department has grown by more than 50% since I joined, and, candidly, we cannot seem to hire fast enough.”

There is no shortage of work — or issues — Prezioso said.

“The fact that the youngest children are still waiting for vaccines presents challenges and stress to employees with young children,” she said. “Employers want and need their employees to thrive while simultaneously needing their businesses to run.

“The next year will undoubtedly be an interesting and busy one.”